Del Graff is hopeful that a report specific to the needs of children leaving care will get the attention it deserves from politicians.
Last month, Graff tabled the Special Report on Children Aging out of Care in the Legislature, which included five recommendations to better support children leaving government care.
The issue of children aging out of government care and not receiving the necessary supports for transition is not new. It is a concern that has been raised regularly in previous reports as far back as 1997. But Graff, who has served as the province’s Child and Youth Advocate since June 2011, is hopeful that the urgency of the issue will hit home with MLAs as his first special report.
“My goal in writing this report is to improve the supports provided by government to young people as they transition from living in care to living independently,” said Graff.
At issue are children hitting 18 years of age in government care and then being turned out.
The OCYA hosted focus groups in October and November to develop this report. While a number of those focus groups were held in Aboriginal communities or hosted by Aboriginal organizations, and general focus groups included Aboriginal youth, none of the recommendations in the report are specific to meeting the needs of Aboriginal children aging out of care.
That is not an oversight, says Graff, who has gone on record in numerous public statements drawing attention to the high number of Aboriginal children – close to 60 per cent – who are in government care.
“There weren’t recommendations that were unique to Aboriginal young people. The recommendations that we made we believe apply to all of the young people in care, of which… the majority are Aboriginal. The area we saw there being a strong emphasis (from Aboriginal youth) was the connection to family and communities and those were embedded into the recommendations … just in terms of being able to have connection with meaningful adults in their lives. And then we spoke about, wherever possible, making sure that they can effectively identify their interests in family relationships,” said Graff.
While non-Aboriginal young people also called for meaningful connections with adults, Aboriginal young people talked about lacking meaningful connections with not only their families, but with their communities and history.
A recommendation like this doesn’t have a dollar figure attached to it, but that doesn’t mean additional resources are not needed to bring about some of the other recommendations. However, no budget figure was included with the report.
“More resources are certainly one of the issues. It’s an issue that the young people raised when we spoke to them,” said Graff.
“They spoke to us about needing to find housing where they felt they lived in a safe space, a safe neighbourhood, those are the kinds of issues where added resources are integral to accomplishing that,” he said.
But more resources aren’t the only issue, he says.
Other recommendations called for dedicated workers to provide continuity in dealings with young people aging out of care, which could mean additional caseworkers in an office or something as simple as re-arranging duties so there is a specific caseworker that deals with this group of children; as well as more training to ensure caseworkers understood the unique needs of this group of young people. Access to counselling and mental health services was also recommended.
The report was followed-up by an afternoon-long symposium late April, which included young people, government decision-makers, and front-line staff examining how the recommendations could be implemented.
In acknowledging the report and the work that needs to be undertaken to support young people transitioning out of care, Alberta Human Services Minister David Hancock said that “18 is just a chronological age (and) it doesn’t actually tell about a person’s readiness to move into a world” of being responsible on their own.